Concern over Northern Ireland’s lack of prison sentences for animal abusers

Courts have been urged to take tougher action against animal cruelty.

spent 28 prison sentences have been handed down by the courts of Northern Ireland for animal cruelty offenses in recent years, while over the same period thousands of breaches of animal welfare laws have been detected by the councils.

Stormont’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) deals with farm animal welfare complaints, while local councils carry out site visits regarding non-farm animals. livestock – in other words, pets.

The latest available figures from 2020 show that DAERA carried out 63 farm animal welfare inspections following complaints during the year and detected 25 breaches of animal welfare legislation. Since 2016, the department has carried out 558 inspections and detected 102 violations of the law.

The councils, meanwhile, received 4,363 non-farm animal welfare complaints in 2020, conducted 6,107 site visits and detected 4,181 breaches of animal welfare legislation.

Since 2016, municipalities have received 25,100 of these complaints, carried out 42,834 inspections and detected 23,327 breaches of animal welfare legislation.

From 2016 to 2020, Department of Justice figures reveal just 28 custodial sentences handed down in Northern Ireland relating to animal welfare.

SDLP MP Dolores Kelly said there is a clear gap between the number of incidents where people have broken animal welfare law and the number of custodial sentences handed down.

“While no one would expect every offense to result in a custodial sentence, in 2020 there were 4,181 breaches of the law, with just seven prison sentences handed down,” she said.

“The lack of custodial sentences being issued sends a clear message about how seriously our justice system takes animal abuse. In recent years we have seen cases where people have abused and neglected animals in the most heinous and still escaped from prison. We cannot allow animals to endure horrible ordeals, with the aggressor receiving nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

“If we are ever going to reduce the thousands of incidents of animal abuse recorded each year, we need to take this issue seriously. People need to understand that if they are found guilty of neglecting or abusing an animal, they We have strict sentencing guidelines in place in the North, but we need to see them used by the judiciary against anyone convicted of animal abuse to send a clear message that this will not be tolerated.

“If we see tough sentences handed down alongside an island-wide animal cruelty registry, I think we have the potential to significantly reduce the number of incidents we see each year.”

Judges are bound by sentencing guidelines and must consider mitigating circumstances, such as early guilty pleas, cooperation with police and remorse, as well as aggravating factors.

DAERA has been contacted for comments.

The news comes after it emerged that the creation of a registry of those convicted of animal cruelty offenses has moved closer.

For years, animal rights groups and other stakeholders have been calling for the creation of a registry of those convicted of abusing an animal – such as exists for sex offenders – in order to prevent them from own animals.

In 2016, Belfast City Council passed a motion calling for the creation of such a register, but movement on the issue only took place last year.

In response to a question from the House, DAERA Minister Edwin Poots said: “Officials have also been looking at the effectiveness and impact of similar types of registers already in place elsewhere. I have instructed my officials to continue these efforts and develop proposals on potential next steps. I expect to be able to see a way forward for a registry early in the new year. »

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